Will to Openness Instead of Will to Power

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

Are you overwhelmed by the onslaught of suggestions about New Year's Resolutions? Lose weight. Get in shape. Spend more time with family. According to the pollsters at Marist, the top resolutions for 2018 are  - being a better person and losing weight. Being a better person is a bit fuzzy about how one would achieve that. But losing weight? That's one we can track. But by January 8th? Twenty-five percent of us report that our resolutions have gone by the wayside. Seven days and we are done. 

After decades of promoting will power and self control as the way to achieve goals, the experts are acknowledging that maybe will power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If it was? We’d all be thin, in shape and out of debt. 

Recently I came across an article by Professor Brent Robbins, a psychology professor at Point Park University. Referencing some of my favorite thinkers, Martin Buber and Meister Eckhart, he wrote about a "will to openness" as a way of being in the world as opposed to a "will to power." 

I loved that idea - a will to openness. Haven't we struggled enough with willpower? When we approach our lives with a focus on a means to an end, we are engaging our environment with the goal to control, predict and manipulate. Right? It makes sense doesn't it? Our focus on resolutions - just think about the definition of resolution itself "A firm decision to do or not do something or to solve a problem" reveals the core of a resolution is about changing something through control. And that is working out well for the human race right? All around us we see the detritus of a will to power - from the examples in our own lives to the headlines we read every day. 

So if we are going to try something new this year...how does a "will to openness" show up in our lives? I really think gratitude, as a way of being in the world that taps into openness to what is, provides a roadmap.

When we have a white knuckled grip on our lives, we expend lots of energy on trying to control or predict our future. I will never forget the summer of 1999 that I spent on Naxos, Greece. I was focused with making a career change. Laying on the beach, I found myself obsessing over what I was going to do about my job when I got back home. I did charts about money and how I could save more. I tried to do everything I could to come to a rational linear decision about whether or not to quit being a teacher. Did I say I was doing this on a Greek Island with the Aegean sea as my backdrop? Little did I know at the time, but I was about four weeks pregnant. And all the thinking, analyzing and predicting I was doing? It was all for naught. When I got back home I stepped into the reality that I was a pregnant, unmarried (but partnered) teacher in a Catholic elementary school located in an impoverished community where the incidence of teenage pregnancy was high. I called the principal and met with him. I told him I was having a baby and that I felt I needed to resign from the school. 

That summer I was drowning in my own will to power.  How differently I could have spent that time had I spent more of my energy on a will to openness. After all isn’t that an essential part of any spiritual journey? We practice letting  go of our ideas and plans and instead be present to the here and now. 

It is giving one’s full presence to the hallowed ground of the task before us, the other in need, the existence that sustains us with its blessings, without willing a further purpose or ground beyond them. 
— Brent Robbins

Little did I know I was about to embark on the ultimate journey of acknowledging one’s lack of control - motherhood. I look back at my younger self now and smile. I have such empathy for her trying so hard, but I see it's futility now in a way I didn't at age 30. 

So it’s this will to openness I am exploring. Interestingly enough, I am writing about this as I enter the year when that baby, who was growing in me during that summer, is now preparing to graduate from high school and head off to college. The never ending opportunities to learn how not in control I am.